Taking part in the OBW Exchange at the age of twenty, and having the opportunity to study and live in Germany for one year, has so far been the BEST year of my life! There are no words to describe just how amazing my year abroad in Baden Württemberg has been. It has included travelling throughout Europe, making friendships with people from all around the world, exciting adventures, learning German, and lastly gaining an International academic experience at one of the most prestigious and respected universities in Germany.
Professionally speaking, if you want to stand out and have an edge over other Canadian graduates, you would have had to do something significant like studying on exchange that sets you apart from other students. By having this experience on my resume, I know that it will open many doors for me in the future. It is not just the courses taken overseas that set you apart, it’s the cross-cultural skills and life experiences that you gain which will be imperative in the future when employers look at your credentials and resume. I have learned to be self reliant, independent, confident in my abilities, adaptable, and cultured, and I am able to step out of my comfort zone and thrive in new experiences. I’m now able to explore fresh territory without being fearful.
Prior to coming to Germany in September of 2009, I attended an Orientation session in Toronto at the end of May where I was able to meet the two other girls going to the same German University as me, as well as other Ontario students going abroad to Germany, all of whom have now become my close friends and study at different Universities throughout Baden Württemberg. This Orientation run by the OBW Program office in Toronto helped me prepare for everything that I needed to know prior to departure and I gained an abundance of information that assisted me in getting ready for my exchange.
When I first arrived in in September, the International Office at the University of Konstanz was fantastic. They helped me with everything from registering at the University, to all the paperwork, to selecting courses and settling into my new environment. Before the semester started, I took part in an intensive German Language course where I attended classes every day for the entire month of September with other international exchange students from all over the world. I found that the intensive German course, which was paid for by the Baden-Württemberg government, really helped me refresh my German before starting actual University classes in mid October, and it was a great opportunity to practice speaking German with other foreign students without worrying about making mistakes.
After the September German language course finished, the winter semester began and I not only took many classes in German for improving my German language capabilities, but also a few classes relating to my major in English. So, if your German is not perfect and still needs lots of improvement and you worry that you might not be ready to take all your classes in German, no need to worry! You have the option to take classes taught in both German and English. I had only learned German for two years at McMaster University prior to coming on exchange with the OBW program, and it is safe to say that my German has improved exponentially.
Aside from my academic life throughout my first semester, the international office organizes events and monthly get-togethers for the North American students studying here at the university. These have included dinners at the local Irish Pub, meeting at the Weihnachtsmarkt during Christmas time, and other exciting events. They also organize very affordable excursions to wonderful cities throughout Germany and Switzerland. I had the opportunity to go to St.Gallen, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Meersburg, Zurich and Berlin.
My first semester here has been incredible, and I have nothing but positive things to share about my experience. Within these last six months, I have grown so much as a person, my German has improved tremendously, I’ve made many new friendships, and have had the incredible privilege and opportunity to study while living in one of the most beautiful places in all of Germany: Lake Constance, which borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Every day when I’m at the University and look out the windows of the Cafeteria, I see the pristine Lake Constance with the Swiss Alps in the backdrop; and it never ceases to fascinate me the incredible beauty of this region. I truly do feel like I’m living in a dream.
This is the time of our lives, and it is up to us to make our lives what we want it to be. As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
OBW Participant 2009-2010
Nicole Hemmer is a Communication Studies and German Major at McMaster University, currently on exchange at the University of Konstanz in Baden Württemberg, Germany.